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The Whole Earth Catalog

Affecting our perspectives to this very day...
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Whole Earth Flashbacks takes you on a dazzling journey through time, from the first Whole Earth Catalogs to the Co-Evolution Quarterly, the Whole Earth Review, the Hackers Conference, the Well, Cyberthon, Wired, Burning Man and the 10,000 Year Clock, to name but a few. Meet the creators of the Whole Earth Catalog and the community they inspired. This video history of the Whole Earth culture covers 50 years of collective innovation in just a half-hour. Whole Earth Flashbacks was created by Fabrice Florin

The overview effect, Stewart Brand and the Whole Earth Catalog…

Following is an article I shared on the 50th anniversary of the Whole Earth Catalog and now on the 55th excited to share the launch of the Whole Earth Index as noted below.

I was born in 1956 and remember when rocket ships went from dreams to reality. We saw them first on TV in black and white cartoons, then a few years later they were blasting off for real in color newscasts. 

As the technology to capture images from space aboard the satellites and spaceships became more capable, pictures were beamed back to NASA for scientific purposes. 

It so happens that on earth there was a man who thought those images of the whole earth should be made public. That it was something that should be shared with all of humanity. That it was our inalienable right as passengers on this spaceship earth to see, to learn, to know.

Thanks to Stewart Brand who in 1966 took to the streets to lobby for public access to these rumored images of earth from space.

In 1968 this incredible image was soon to become part of our toolset, part of our lexicon of cognition of where we are… a literal welcome home, “you are here,” was spread virally (by print, before digital) as one of our most momentous memes. 

And so became the Whole Earth Catalog, an access to tools. An idea whose pages beneath the cover with this image of earth from space would contain all the best ideas and tools at hand to claim our independence from a broken society, renew our wisdom and regenerative practices for a sustainable future…initiated from a grassroots, hands-on momentum.

I was a child of this collective epiphany, this awakening, this perspective. I felt the movement and an entire culture shift as it swept me along with it. The chaos of so many possibilities was incredibly exciting. So much was being shared on so many topics. There were so many interesting perspectives. So many incredible stories, insights and ideas. And really cool tools. Things to make things you didn’t even know existed. Every page turned revealed a new potential hobby, philosophical angle, design insight, essential life skill, or any of a plethora of useful topics.

Welcome home…

Context is everything. Brand, encouraged by R. Buckminster Fuller, was intent on the idea that if leveraging the necessary awareness, foundational knowledge and proper tools we could align ourselves with the planet for a symbiotic existence.

Seeing is believing. We could now see the little planet we lived on floating alone in space. We could also see by turning the pages we were not alone, alone… we had each other, our energy, knowledge, ideas, and collaborative spirit.

Yes, the times they were a changing, we could see that much more clearly from these new perspectives with the help of the crew at the Whole Earth Catalog.

The work being done at Whole Earth and later at Co-Evolution Quarterly was a reflection of the collective conscious, the noosphere, the commons of mind long before the internet and the ability to google. 

Each issue was organized around a theme with various angles and topics, tools, events and information that somehow related to the theme. It was a relational idea database, a catalog of synergy with down to earth ideas.

This is why I feel so at home in the noosphere today reflecting upon the existence of the Whole Earth Catalog, its effect on history moving forward and the generations that have followed.

I know for a fact it added fuel to my personal epiphany launching me on a trajectory that has led to this very night as I watched the Whole Earth Catalog’s 50th year anniversary live feed.

I will never forget the sense of chaos emanating from their houseboat in Sausalito when I walked in to the Whole Earth offices back in the day. The universe had exploded and knowledge was everywhere.

Fifty years ago humanity was afforded a view of the big picture for the first time. We will never be able to unsee it again.

They helped to usher in a journey that is now part of our collective cognitive DNA, our need to know, to understand whole systems, to collaborate, to envision, to build a better future now.


Announcing the Whole Earth Index

Gray Area and The Internet Archive have made the Whole Earth Catalog and its descendants newly available online through the Whole Earth Index

This milestone will echo throughout the noosphere with the announcement today on their 55th anniversary, in collaboration with Gray Area and the Internet Archive, a nearly-complete archive of Whole Earth publications, a series of journals and magazines descended from the Whole Earth Catalog, published by Stewart Brand and the POINT Foundation between 1970 and 2002. They are made available here for scholarship, education, and research purposes.


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Mark Smith